Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen left the court in Salt Lake City, November 15, 2019. He resigned from his elected post on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, a few months after being charged with carrying out a human smuggling operation that paid pregnant women from Marshall Islands to surrender their babies in the Associated file US Press by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
CITY LAKE CITY (AP) – A former Arizona politician pleaded guilty in Utah on Friday to people smuggling and other accusations in illegal adoption schemes that stretch across three states and involve women from the Marshall Islands.
Paul Petersen, a Republican who serves the district appraiser in the Phoenix metro, has also made a plea agreement with the Arizona prosecutor on charges of state Medicaid fraud. He is expected to submit a similar request in Arkansas next week.
Petersen was charged with illegally paying women from the Pacific island nation to come to the United States to surrender their babies in at least 70 adoption cases in Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas for three years.
Women brought to Utah to give birth received little or no prenatal care and their passports were taken while they were in the US to assert control over them, authorities said.
He pleaded guilty in Utah to three counts of human smuggling and one count of communication fraud, all of them serious crimes.
“Today, Utah is safer. “All of America and our friends in the Marshall Islands are safer,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. Marshall Islands residents have been banned from traveling to the US for adoption purposes since 2003.
Petersen faces a sentence of 15 years in prison, a $ 50,000 fine and conditions for closing adoption practices in Utah. He is expected to plead guilty to federal charges of hiding aliens for financial gain in Arkansas, which carry up to 10 years in federal prison.
He will serve federal sentences first, and Utah and Arizona penalties will run at the same time, Reyes said.
Petersen’s lawyer previously said he carried out the practice of adopting the law and was unfairly slandered. He didn’t say much during his trial on Friday.
A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Petersen completed a missionary mission in the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and islands in the eastern Pacific.
Petersen’s petition in Arizona acknowledged that he helped get state-funded health care for adoptive mothers, even though he knew the women did not live in Arizona. Officials said 28 Marshall women gave birth in the Phoenix area as part of the scheme, with Petersen helping secure $ 800,000 in state-funded health care costs.
Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.
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